* U.S. House to vote on bills to expand offshore drilling
* Democrats to counter by trying to end Big Oil tax breaks
* Senate to have series of hearings, votes on tax breaks
By Tom Doggett
WASHINGTON, May 4 (Reuters) - Republicans in the House of Representatives will bring two bills up for a vote on Thursday they say will help cut fuel costs for American drivers.
Republicans are trying to show voters they are working to ease the pain of high pump costs, while portraying Democrats as wanting to keep the United States hooked on foreign oil.
The bills, which are expected to clear the House but not the Democratically-controlled Senate, would expand drilling to offshore Virginia and require the Interior Department to act within 60 days on permits for companies searching for oil offshore.
Republicans argue the legislation would reduce U.S. crude imports and boost domestic oil production, putting more supply on the market that would lower gasoline prices.
Democrats say the legislation would do nothing to ease gasoline prices in the short term, because it would take up to a decade to search, drill and develop new offshore oil fields.
Phil Flynn, energy analyst at PFGBest Research in Chicago, said the U.S. oil production lost after the government imposed a drilling moratorium in response to the BP oil spill would have helped offset some of disruption in Libyan crude exports that has helped push up prices.
"If we're going to speed up some of these permit processes I do think that would have a psychological downward impact on the oil price," he said.
But Republicans are not only interested in boosting U.S. oil production, they also hope to put Democratic lawmakers on record against efforts to ease America's addiction to foreign oil.
Democrats are planning to offer amendments to the bills to strip billions of dollars in tax breaks from the big oil companies, which recently posted a sharp rise in first quarter profits.
"Borrowing money to pay ExxonMobil to drill for oil they have every incentive to drill for already is Exhibit A for wasteful government spending," said Representative Tim Bishop, whose bill would end subsidies for the five biggest oil firms.
Democrats want to color Republicans as being in the back pocket of oil companies.
"More drilling doesn't lower gas prices - it only means more profits for Big Oil, and the American public is clearly sick of that," said Heather Taylor-Miesle, with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In the U.S. Senate, Democratic leaders were expected to unveil plans for canceling tax breaks for big oil companies.
Instead of having a single vote on a bill to repeal the tax breaks, Senate Democrats will hold several hearings and votes this month to spotlight the issue.
"A series of things are going to happen over the next few weeks. We'll have a variety of bills, all of which have the common thread that they repeal the subsidies," said one Senate Democratic aide.
"The goal is to see if there is any way of doing this that Republicans actually support repealing the tax subsidies to the big oil companies," the aide said.
This will keep the pressure on Republicans as gasoline prices are expected to climb above $4 a gallon heading into May's Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the U.S. summer vacation season.
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Russell Blinch and Sofina Mirza-Reid)